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Lord Whitty: I do not think that I can add much to what my noble friend said in relation to the requirements on conservation and the co-operation between English Nature and the Countryside Agency as regards the powers under new Section 28E to the 1981 Act, which refer back to the exercise of powers under this clause. I am grateful to my noble friend. At least I was, until she started her attack on the British transport system.

More generally, noble Lords may not be aware that, when exercising any functions relating to land, public bodies already have an existing duty under Section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968 to have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. This specifically includes the conservation of its flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured in that respect. In addition, there are the powers on SSSIs which are given new weight in Part III of this Bill and to which the new arrangement between the Countryside Agency and English Nature applies, as explained by my noble friend Lady Young. So the safeguards are in place.

As regards any serious threat to wildlife outside SSSIs, I believe that there will be relatively few sensitive areas; indeed, most of those sensitive areas will almost certainly be within SSSIs. In any case, we have given the widest powers to relevant authorities to enable them to make directions under Clause 14 to exclude or restrict access specifically for the purposes of nature conservation. Therefore, we believe that a further measure along the lines suggested is unnecessary. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the matter.

Lord Glentoran: Again, I thank the Minister for his explanation. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for her reassurances. Indeed, to hear them from someone with all the knowledge and authority that she has encourages me to believe that we are fairly safe, pretty safe, or even very safe--

Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I could suggest an amendment here: we are quite safe.

Lord Glentoran: I shall accept the noble Baroness's suggestion that we are "quite safe" in this area.

When moving my amendment, I was also concerned about those areas outside SSSIs. It has crossed my mind from time to time--as is the case with

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others--that, as we go through this Bill and things start to happen, there will be a considerable concentration of effort and resources on SSSIs and, to some extent, on AONBs. That is where the larger numbers of people will roam; indeed, the through-put of human beings will be greatest in those areas that are well advertised and promoted.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many very special little areas with special attractions that will not form part of SSSIs because they are part of private land and have been nurtured and looked after for many years. I am encouraged by what the Minister said about such areas; namely, that there are provisions within the Bill which will afford them some protection. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Defence or national security]:

[Amendment No. 279 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 280:


    Page 17, line 5, at end insert--


("(6) If in any calendar year the Secretary of State reviews a defence direction, he shall--
(a) prepare a report on all reviews of defence directions which he has undertaken during that year, and
(b) lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.
(7) In subsection (6) "defence direction" means a direction given under this section for the purposes of defence.").

The noble Lord said: During discussion of this Bill in another place my honourable friend Chris Mullin agreed to consider an amendment tabled by David Heath, the Liberal Democrat Member for Somerton and Frome. We very much agree with the reason for that amendment; namely, that there should be effective scrutiny of directions for long-term closures or restrictions on defence grounds.

My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment made clear in another place that the Government would consider the most appropriate way to meet the concerns raised. We concluded that we needed the amendment which I now move. The amendment will require the Secretary of State to prepare and lay before Parliament a report on all reviews of defence directions under Clause 26 which have been undertaken in a given year. I believe that the amendment demonstrates that the Government are willing to listen to genuine points of concern and can provide a means of reconciling the demand for greater public access with the need not to compromise vital defence interests. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for clarifying government Amendment No. 280. I read with interest the debate in another place but I was somewhat unclear about its outcome. We are anxious to get as much access land available as possible for everyone to use. However, people are anxious that on some of these sites there may still be unexploded bombs. I believe that Salisbury Plain was mentioned in another place as a possible access site. I may be mistaken but

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I believe that there may still be an unknown quantity of unexploded shells on these sites. I hope that the Minister will clarify that matter.

Lord Burnham: Which Secretary of State is involved?

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for moving this amendment. I believe that my honourable friend in another place, David Heath, will be pleased to see it. The public have felt strongly that Ministry of Defence land should be considered with a view to permitting public access. The amendment goes a long way to meeting that objective in its mention of reviews and laying a report before Parliament. I thank the Minister for the amendment.

Lord Whitty: I am grateful for that support. As regards the safety aspect of munitions, as part of any review the Ministry of Defence would have to assess not only the need to maintain restrictions for defence reasons but also whether it was safe to open sites for public access. I was asked which Secretary of State would be involved in this matter. Legally speaking, the Secretary of State is a single entity. Therefore we do not in legislation describe the different roles of different Secretaries of State. The restrictions we are discussing are clearly DETR restrictions but the Secretary of State for Defence will be involved in the review. That matter was mentioned in the Ministry of Defence document, The Strategy for the Defence Estate, which was published earlier this year. That ministry will be responsible for assessing the military interest in keeping a site closed or otherwise.

Baroness Byford: I hope that I may press the Minister a little further. I am not involved in military matters and therefore I may ask my next question from ignorance. Presumably the relevant Minister may not know accurately where the problems we have discussed may arise. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me that that is not the case. If they do not know where problems may arise, it will be a costly exercise to find that out. I do not know how one goes about declaring land "clean land" that is safe for people to walk on. I understand that there are some areas of land not used for that purpose. I am still unclear. Will the Minister take back the amendment, or bring back some provision at the next stage? I do not understand how it will be achieved.

11 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I am not much of a military expert myself. Clearly the responsibility for management of these sites at present is a responsibility for the Ministry of Defence. Most military training areas--they will include target practice areas and so on--will be excluded from the right of access under military by-laws. In terms of the restrictions and the by-laws the reviews would need to assess the safety conditions. As regards some, sites there may be safety problems in part of a site, but not the whole site. That does not necessarily oblige the Ministry of Defence to spend

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millions clearing the site. It needs to asses the risk at each of those sites and exclude areas where there is still a risk.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 26, as amended, stand part of the Bill?

The Earl of Selborne: We referred to Clause 24 as a jewel in the Bill for nature conservation. One has to recognise that Clause 26 is equally effective simply because the Ministry of Defence has a peerless reputation for wildlife conservation. It is no accident. The reason that it has some of the best large estates with wildlife which is not seen any more outside Ministry of Defence land is that there has been limited access to that land over the years. While I recognise that Clause 26 requires that Ministry of Defence land or other land can be restricted only on grounds of defence or national security it is, nevertheless, a happy chance for nature conservation that this clause exists. Without it, as I think that we have recognised so many other times in the Bill, it would be incompatible to keep this high quality nature conservation and have the access which might otherwise be available.

Lord Whitty: In so far as that remark requires a comment, let me say that it is correct so far as it goes and does not challenge the purposes of Clause 26. While it is true that in recent decades the Ministry of Defence has a good record in respect of nature conservation, it is also true, regrettably, that some military land is severely environmentally damaged because of the use to which the military have put it. Taking it out of that context would improve the nature situation. Both situations would be taken into account when assessing whether we should lift the restriction.

Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 27 [Reference by relevant advisory body]:

[Amendments Nos. 281 to 285 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Appeal by person interested in land]:

[Amendments Nos. 286 to 291 not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Regulations relating to exclusion or restriction of access]:


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